Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Biblical Slavery vs. Other Forms

When the secularist attempts to discredit the Bible, he usually invokes “biblical slavery”: “How can your God be just and loving? After all, didn’t he institute the barbaric practice of slavery!”

However, Biblical slavery had been totally different from racial, lifelong, inescapable slavery, as practiced in this country and among the Arabs – like the difference between parental spanking and child abuse. The humane nature of Biblical slavery was highlighted by the fact that Mosaic law offered slaves the option of remaining slaves instead of taking their freedom when they had the opportunity (Deut. 15:16-17). However, by New Testament times, the institution of Biblical slavery was non-existent, and therefore, slave-trading of that day was forbidden:

·        For adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers--and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine. (1 Tim. 1:10)

However, during Mosaic times, it was used instead of prison or capital punishment:

·        "A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft.” (Exodus 22:3)

Kidnapping, to obtain slaves, as has been done in racial slavery, was forbidden:

·        If a man is caught kidnapping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you. (Deut. 24:7)

Slavery was preferable to prison or having your hand cut off. Although slavery was degrading, it was also a humane institution:

·        If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deut. 15:12-14)

The slave was also protected by the law against injury. If the master injured the slave, he was to go free:

·        If a man hits a manservant or maidservant in the eye and destroys it, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of a manservant or maidservant, he must let the servant go free to compensate for the tooth. (Exodus 21:26-27)
Racial slaves never had such protection. Under Biblical slavery, if the family believed that the slave was worthy of his freedom, they could purchase him out of slavery:

·        He retains the right of redemption after he has sold himself. One of his relatives may redeem him: (Leviticus 25:48)

The slave or servant was to be treated almost like family:

·        Bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. And there rejoice before the Lord your God, you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns, who have no allotment or inheritance of their own. (Deut. 12:11-12)

Besides this, an Israelite could only keep a slave for six years:

·        If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. (Exodus 21:2)

At this point, the secularist will protest – “Well, that only applies to the Hebrew slave.” Although this is true, a slave could always become an Israelite and partake in all of the rights extended to them.

Mosaic Law was inclusive. God commanded Abraham that even those he bought as slaves were to be circumcised, thereby erasing any possible class or racial distinction within his “household”:

  • “This is my covenant with you [Abraham] and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner--those who are not your offspring.” (Genesis 17:10-12)

Israel was to be a model of inclusiveness. All could and should come; all were to be under the covenant of God, and none were ever turned away:

·        “Any slave you have bought may eat of [the Passover] after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it…An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD'S Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you." (Exodus 12:44-49)

Even the slave could choose circumcision and receive full inclusion as an Israelite. It had been God’s intention that Israel would be the model of inclusion, and circumcision was the ticket in. Race, education, national origin would present no obstacle. Instead, God’s intention was that all would be under the same law.

There was no indication of any racial superiority in any of Israel’s legislation. Instead, Israel was always reminded that they had been slaves so that they would be gracious to their slaves and that a single egalitarian set of laws would suffice for all – whether Jewish or not. Israel was also to be a model society for the surrounding nations:

·        “See, I [Moses] have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deut. 4:5-8)

Predictably, secularism now wants to claim the mantle of the “protector of human rights.” This certainly wasn’t the case under secular communism and hasn’t been the case historically.  “Secularism does not liberate,” according to Indian scholar Vishal Mangalwadi. He quotes historian Rodney Stark to support his claim:

  • A virtual Who’s Who of “Enlightenment” figures fully accepted slavery…It was not philosophers or secular intellectuals who assembled the moral indictment of slavery, but the very people they held in such contempt: men and women having intense Christian faith, who opposed slavery because it was sin…The larger point is that abolitionists, whether popes or evangelists, spoke almost exclusively in the language of Christian faith…Although many Southern clergy [in America] proposed theological defenses of slavery, pro-slavery rhetoric was overwhelmingly secular – references were made to “liberty” and “states’ rights,” not to “sin” or “salvation.” (The Book that made your World, 114)
There were compelling reasons why “Biblical Theology abolished slavery.” Unbiblical slavery was simply unbiblical, as Mangalwadi affirms:

  • [Christians] considered slavery to be sinful. Slavery means toil, and the Bible said toil was a consequence of sin. God loved sinners enough to send his son to take their sin upon Himself. The curse of sin was nailed upon the cross. (114)

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